My Summer of Arcade

XBox Live Arcade has done a pretty admirable job of bringing solid downloadable games to placate the summer draught with their annual Summer of Arcade promotion. This year seems to kill the goodwill by not picking the brightest, but the privileged. So far, we have a decade old game in a disparate bid to resurrect a dying franchise and another subpar Kinect game. Not to say XBLA exclusives have failed. Plenty other titles released recently that I deem worthy.

Swiller’s 5 Tips for you.
(Click to enlarge)

Spelunky: Indiana Jones-like adventure platformer with randomly assembled levels, items, enemies and music, so that no game ever plays the same. The gameplay is very simple. You run, jump, and fight your way through a level to find the exit at the bottom, while collecting as much treasure as you can. You’re equipped with a few ropes, bombs and your trusty whip to get you out of trouble, but you can come across many different items to potentially help you. As you go deeper, you will find a lush jungle, ice caves and mysterious temple in your bid to escape.

The first thing you may hear about this game, is that it is HARD. Most tightly controlled platformers, starting with the likes of Super Mario Bros, require muscle-memory. Retrying the same hurdle over and over, to get past it. This comes into a glorious, but insanely maddening way, with newer indie title, Super Meat Boy. Many complain about Spelunky because it’s randomness does not allow the player progress or get better. But to me, it’s randomness ends up being it’s greatest strength. Spelunky is about learning all the items and enemies you encounter. An entry is added to your in-game journal for every trap, creature, item, and artifact you come across. At the end of each series of four levels you will find Tunnel Man, who will build you a shortcut if you give him the items he needs.

10 Minis are coming soon!

After over ten hours, I found the progression to be a perfect balance. You will get better, but you must play the levels over and over to gain REAL experience in the world, not through manufactured XP, repetition, or leveling up. It has many secrets, that you continually see or learn something new. It’s quite refreshing to not have to repeat the same series of jumps over and over, to get to the next bit. You may also still be amused by the random , different ways the game will kill you over and over. This game is fast and condensed with action. Maybe lasting tens of minutes, if you make it to the end. I understand this XBLA version is a majorly updated port of the free PC version of the game. Jonathan Blow of Braid encouraged the developer to bring it over to xbox , as a result, they polished one of the finest gems on the service.

Movie tie-in allows you to pick your favorite spherical hero.

Pinball FX 2: The developers at Zen Studios continue to refine their craft on a XBLA game I gushed about two years ago. As a result, it’s newest 4-table pack, Avenger’s Chronicles, may be their best yet. Along with a summer movie tie-in table, is some of the most trippy and surreal I have yet to come across. Infinity Gauntlet has you battling a god in the cosmos, who uses his power to alter gameplay on the table. It sends you traveling to alternate boards and distorts your perception, including playing upside down in alternate reality. Fear Itself, Is a dark and sinister table with goth/metal soundtrack. Here you battle different monsters and try to take out a serpent and includes a side table that plays like arkanoid. The artwork is beautiful and with so many missions these table go beyond anything at the arcade. You also have character models which will animate and battle on top of the table as you progress in missions. Since they are not designed to steal quarters, losing your ball is less of a crap shoot. Pinball FX 2 takes the best of real pinball design, with a tad of fantastical video pinball (recalling some of my past favorites, Kirby and Metroid pinball). At E3 2012, Zen showed many new tables in the works behind closed doors. Press are blown away with what is coming next and licenses involved. The future support is still bright with this game.

With this and equally impressive Pinball Arcade, meticulously preserving and recreating pinball’s histories best tables, It really is the best time to be a pinball fan, without having to spend a fortune and secure a warehouse for the real thing. Fez: Gomez, the character with a magic Fez, is a savant in his flat 16-bit game world. With a tap of the trigger button he sees everything has four dimensions with everyone else oblivious, living and seeing only one flat plane. The similarities to our understanding of the or own universe is hard to miss. With this power, you control Gomez to unravel life, the universe and everything. With no fail-states, the game is only about discovery and exploration. In a time when all mainstream games have become singular, very directed experience it almost becomes a revelation on how far Fez takes this concept.

Finishing this game is something anyone can do with a little effort and interest to see it through. You must traverse and rotate many areas, in a fairly simple hide and seek search for 32 cubes. But their still many great mysteries and markings along the way. Figuring these out will reveal one of 32 anti-cubes and this is were the madness begins. Solving these puzzles can literally take you out of the game completely. An early example is taking a picture of a in-game QR Code to reveal the solution on your smart phone. Another is decoding the games language with a “rosetta stone” of sorts that has you taking notes on paper to figure out. Sitting one morning in silence with a cup of coffee and a pen, trying to decipher one of these messages, the brilliance of the game hit me.

Go deep enough and you’ll have the scratchings of a madman.

I also have to mention creator Phil Fish, which has become synonymous with the title. With a tortured 5-year development chronicled in Indie Game the Movie, this seemingly simple game, becomes madly complex, warped, and special.

Steam: With the Steam Summer Sale and Humble Indie Bundle. The best way to enjoy the games of summer may be to turn off the Xbox completely. With amazing low prices and arguably better online service that is free, it is probably the best bet.

Despite my disappointment with this year’s Summer of Arcade, the spirit is awesome. I don’t want to be tied down with long load times, epics, and game mechanics. I want quick burst fun. I will curl up with those on rainy days. Now for the real arcade, with a visit to California Extreme. Have a nice Summer! See you when the bell rings.

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